It is a simple concept: to keep drinking water and flowing streams clean, you have to keep the dirt out. In order to ensure that the new year brings a clean environment to Virginia, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has launched “12 Days of Accountability.”
On each of 12 days beginning in mid-December, the DPMC is submitting at least one Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) to Virginia state officials and agencies responsible for oversight of pipeline construction. Massive linear construction projects, such as pipelines, have done a poorjob of protecting water and the worry is that Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the lack of oversight in Virginia for such projects would lay the groundwork for an environmental disaster of monumental proportions.
The DPMC, one of 44 groups united as the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) in its opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, has been investigating the disconnect between pipeline projects and clean water in order to prove that without major changes in the regulatory system, the ACP could be a large-scale environmental disaster, especially because the proposed route is unprecedented in the steep, forested terrain vulnerable to erosion, sedimentation problems, and slope slippage that it would traverse.
“We have heard the Governor’s repeated pledge that the ACP will be built in an environmentally responsible manner,” explained DPMC program coordinator Rick Webb. “Unfortunately, with virtually no oversight by the state DEQ, this project is shaping up to be just the opposite – an environmental disaster.”
With regulatory approvals for both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipeline proposals seemingly on the fast track for the coming year,citizens groups such as the DPMC and ABRA are alarmed by the lack of state agency engagement. Among other problems, the state DEQ grants waivers allowing pipeline construction companies to open trenches far beyond Virginia’s 500-foot limit.
“Virginia has a 500-foot limit on open trenches for a reason,” explained Webb. “Long, open trenches with exposed loose soil dramatically increases the potential for erosion and run-off during heavy rain events.”
Sticking with the state’s 500-foot legal limit on open trenches will prove critical to effective regulation of the proposed ACP and MVP, which both cross multiple steep mountains and will both require much wider and deeper trenches than previous pipelines in the region. Slope steepness, difficult topography, soil erodibility, and project design must all be considered in effective project oversight.”
“The law is in place for a reason. Should a thunderstorm suddenly appear and dump large quantities of water on an open trench, the resulting run-off and contamination of streams and drinking water supplies could be catastrophic,” said Nancy Sorrells, chair of the ABRA Communications Committee.
The Pipeline Monitoring Coalition will submit FOIA requests asking the DEQ for all erosion and sediment control plans, agency inspection reports, and notices of violation for pipeline construction projects for which variances for critical open-trench limits have been granted.
The reason for the FOIA requests rests in the fact that it appears that the DEQ, which has oversight authority for construction projects in Virginia, does not obtain or review erosion and sediment control plans for pipeline projects and it only inspects pipeline projects in response to complaints. In fact, it seems that DEQ involvement with pipeline projects is limited to granting variances for critical regulatory requirements.
“DEQ’s responses to our information requests should serve to definitively establish the degree to which the agency is fulfilling its responsibilities under state law and the Clean Water Act. The Twelve Days of Accountability is an information-gathering prelude to our pending challenge to federal reliance on Virginia’s implementation of Clean Water Act requirements. We intend to petition the EPA to withdraw delegation of authority to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality,” said Webb.